A Bûche de Noël is basically a chocolate swiss roll covered in buttercream and made to look like a log. It is one of life’s most wonderful and slightly weird things, and it should be protected at all costs.
I made this – not that I need an excuse to make a chocolate swiss roll covered in buttercream, you understand – for the Expedia Christmas World on a Plate blogger challenge. It’s a pretty cool challenge – several bloggers will be making traditional Christmas recipes from around the globe and blogging about it. So far as part of the campaign bloggers have shared Icelandic Cocoa Soup and Finnish Christmas Biscuits. When I see more of their posts go up I’ll link to them here, in case you fancy a culinary globe-trot this year.
We were allowed to pick our own country, and I chose France. The reason for this is simple – I love France and I love French food. I used to go on holiday to the West of France near La Rochelle every year when I was a teenager, and it was French food that started to break me out of my “I only eat chips and junk food” cycle. Having entrecote et frites for the first time was a revelation, and I later used steak hache to introduce my now-husband to meat. It was in France I realised that salads didn’t have to be disgusting, that there were other desserts apart from ice-cream, that coffee didn’t have to be Nescafe with milk. It’s where I tried pig’s cheek and didn’t throw up, where I learnt the joy of a good piece of bread with butter and salt, where I discovered that I adored coffee as a flavour in pastries. If it wasn’t for my holidays in France, this site would probably not exist.
It was also in France that I ate a four-cheese pizza that literally made me cry because it was so vile, but let’s not discuss that.
France also has some pretty cool Christmas traditions. When I originally thought about what French meal I would cook for this post, I thought about the Gros Souper, or Big Supper. This is a traditional meal held on Christmas Eve in Provence, just before Midnight Mass. The Christmas Eve meal is the main meal when they celebrate Christmas in France, and it’s quite something.
A table is laid with three white tableclothes and decorated with three candles and three dishes of wheat, to represent the Holy Trinity. Then the table is laid with seven very simple meals – no meat, just fish and vegetables – to symbolise the seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary. Everyone eats and goes to Midnight Mass, and when they come back they have thirteen desserts, washed down with mulled wine.
In a perfect world, I would have made a Gros Souper and blogged about it. But this is not a perfect world, this is a world in which I fit my blogging around my full time job and my social life, and so instead you get the much simpler Bûche de Noël.
Not that getting a Bûche de Noël is a bad thing at all. They’re delicious, and also very traditionally French. They’re basically a chocolate genoise sponge (a lighter cake that doesn’t use chemical raising agents) sandwiched with cream and rolled, before being covered in a chocolate buttercream. In this recipe I’ve also filled it with chocolate cream. It’s chocolate on chocolate on chocolate, and it’s delicious. Also fairly simple – the only tricky bit is successfully making it look like a log, and even then a gentle dusting of icing sugar snow covers up any mistakes.
A Bûche de Noël is as steeped in tradition as the Gros Souper – it’s been traditional for years to burn a fruit log very slowly in the days leading up to Christmas in order to ensure a good harvest the following year, and this dessert pays tribute to that. Nowadays every self-respecting patisserie in France has a Bûche de Noël in their window leading up to Christmas, but they’re easy enough to make yourself.
Plus, I already had a gorgeous chocolate roulade recipe, so adapting it for this was a pleasure. I didn’t think it was possible to improve on the original, but I was wrong. Decorate with a sprig of Holly and a plastic robin to make it a gorgeous centrepiece for a festive Christmas meal.
Or, if you’re like me, realise that you don’t actually have a robin and use a penguin Christmas tree ornament instead.
Eh. It works.
Huge thanks to Expedia for inviting me to be a part of this challenge. If you’ve been inspired to take a trip to France, they’ve got info on their France holidays here. And, as always, if you’ve been inspired to make my recipe then don’t forget to send me a photo, because I’d love to see!
What’s your favourite traditional Christmas dish, and where’s it from?
- 175g dark chocolate
- 6 large eggs
- 175g caster sugar
- 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
- 300ml double cream
- Icing sugar
- 50g milk chocolate
- 75g good quality dark chocolate
- 150g unsalted butter
- 300g icing sugar
- Grease and line a 23 x 33cm swiss roll tin. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C
- Melt the chocolate and set aside to cool slightly
- Separate the eggs, putting the whites in one (very clean) bowl and the yolks in another. Whisk the egg whites with an electric whisk until they are stiff and you can turn the bowl upside down without them falling out
- Tip the sugar in the egg yolks and whisk together until the mix is thick and pale like a milkshake. Pour the melted chocolate into the yolks and fold together gently but firmly until combined
- Add two or three spoonfuls of the egg whites into the chocolate and stir gently to loosen it. Then add two tablespoons of cocoa powder, the rest of the egg whites, and fold in. Be as gentle as possible in order to keep all the air in.
- Pour this mix into the swiss roll tin and smooth the top to make it even. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 20 minutes, until the top feels firm. Remove from the oven but keep it in the tin, letting it cool completely
- Lay a sheet of baking paper as long as the sponge on a work surface, and sprinkle it well with icing sugar. Turn the sponge out onto the baking parchment on the counter and peel off the paper you used to line the tin.
- Whip the double cream until it holds its shape, before spreading it over the top of the sponge. Go right to the edges
- Gently roll one short end of the roulade towards the other side. You can use the parchment to help you here; pull it away from you in order to get a tighter roll. Don’t worry about the outside of the roll cracking; you're going to cover it with icing sugar soon
- When you have a roll, trim the edges diagonally. Reserve the cut offs, and set everything aside whilst you make the buttercream
- Melt the chocoalate and set aside
- Beat the butter until soft and pale. Add icing sugar and beat until pale and fluffy - this should take about three minutes with an electric beater. Then beat in the chocolate
- Angle the cut off parts on the side of the roulade so that they look like branches. Smear everything in the buttercream, covering the ends and the branches. Smooth it out, but don't make it look too perfect
- Use the tip of a sharp knife to make wibbly lines all over the top and sides of the cake. You're trying to make it look like a log. Use a wet finger to create circles on the ends of the log, and then use the knife to draw wibbly circles on that too
- Dust with icing sugar and serve